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Preview: North Harbour v Northland

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Friday, October 9, 2015    ITMCup.co.nz    Getty Images

The hosts will be looking for pride to salvage a see-sawing season that ended with a loss to Otago last week.

Form: North Harbour bowed out of Championship contention with a 32-39 loss to Otago at home. The hosts have lost four on the bounce, and five of their last six matches. Sunday's clash is a prime opportunity to reverse their three loss, one win record at QBE Stadium in 2015. North Harbour traditionally struggle to break the first line of defenders, with a competition-low 54 clean breaks. One surprising element – North Harbour's lineout. Statistically it ranks in the top five in the competition at 87.3 percent, almost 10 percent more than Northland.

Given their lowly position – 0 wins, 9 losses and 1 competition point – it should surprise nobody that Northland lies at the bottom of most statistics. Their latest loss, a 36-54 result to Otago, gave the Taniwha their first and only competition point of the 2015 season. A competition-low 17 tries and 3136 metres gained is almost as embarrassing as their 28.1 average margin of defeat. But if there's any team they can rise up to the challenge for, it's North Harbour.

Played:
36
Wins: North Harbour 24, Northland 10, Draws 2
Last Time: Northland 58 North Harbour 27, Whangarei 2014

Teams:
NORTH HARBOUR (likely): 1.Nic Mayhew, 2.James Parons (captain), 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Gerard Tuioti-Mariner, 5.Hayden Triggs, 6.Brandon Nansen, 7.Josh Blucher, 8.Chris Vui, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Dan Halangahu/Matt McGahan, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Michael Little, 13.Pita Ahki, 14.Nafi Tuitavake, 15.Matt McGahan/Josh Rowland.

Reserves: 16.Ray Niuia, 17.Alex Woonton, 18.George Tuinukuafe, 19.Dillon Wihongi, 20.Kima Iosua, 21.David Bason, 22.Matt Vaega, 23.Josh Rowland/Junior Tofa'a Va'a.

NORTHLAND (likely): 1.Ross Wright, 2.Matt Moulds, 3.Namatahi Waa, 4.Sean Sweetman, 5.Shane Neville, 6.Jaycob Matiu, 7.Taniela Manu, 8.Dan Pryor, 9.Sam Nock, 10.Dan Hawkins, 11.Jordan Hyland, 12.Troy Gilbert, 13.Warren Dunn, 14.Dave Thomas, 15.Mathew Wright.

Reserves: 16.Jordan Olsen, 17.Howard Silitoto, 18.Matais Navarez, 19.Michael Stolberg, 20.Kara Pryod, 21.Kurt Davies, 22.Tyler Lansdowne, 23.Waisea Lawbuka.

Squad Update: Both sides were unavailable at the time of publishing, but both sides aren't expected to make drastic changes ahead of the encounter.

Key Players: Michael Little is joint third in the tryscoring race for 2015 with six tries. Should he find space and go on to score a few more, the electric back could catch Auckland's George Moala, who has a competition-high nine tries. He should get some able assistance from the dynamic Tevita Li. Lock Gerard Tuioti-Mariner has proven why he has been snaffled by the Blues in 2016 with the joint third-highest number of lineout takes.

Kara Pryor has been a rock in an otherwise defensively paper-thin Northland outfit with 93 tackles throughout the season, while Warren Dunn's offloading prowess will have North Harbour on notice.